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Engineering new business start-ups in rural Australia

05 October 2018

Jillian Kilby admits she often collapses in a heap at the end of a busy week. She has trouble saying “No” to projects and her own stream of ideas.

Born in Coonamble, and from a farming family, Jillian’s a civil engineer with an MBA and Master of Public Policy from Stanford University. She owns and runs her own Dubbo-based civil engineering project-management firm, The Infrastructure Collective. Her business focusses on improving infrastructure in rural Australia: roads, railways, airports, bridges,  water and sewerage systems, that sort of thing. Jillian’s clients are local, national and international.

The Exchange is Jillian’s social impact venture, and it is for this that she has been recognised as one of the finalists in AgriFutures 2018 Rural Women’s Awards.

The Exchange provides nascent business ideas with the support they need to take their idea from “thought bubble” to reality – sometimes in less than an hour.

“Just the other day,” Jillian recounts, “we had a young women come in who was doing social media for a company. She felt she wasn’t getting the opportunities to do what she felt was best at for them and spent 30 minutes with us, talking. That night in the co-working space, she put together her brand:  a web site, email address, business cards.

“When I woke the next morning, her LinkedIn profile announced she’d founded her own social media branding company based in Dubbo,” finishes Jillian.

Whether you’re a start-up or a new, micro or small business, Jillian believes your needs are similar in the first few weeks and months: confidence, priming, mentors, support, access to services, which services and where to find them. The Exchange co-working space, its new website, plus a number of other projects and ideas Jillian has in the pipeline, are providing the support needed to fire the starting gun.

According to Jillian, “confidence” needs can’t be met by government or the private sector. Community is the place to find the answers. This is why, as a business founder herself, Jillian is very much inside the community mentoring project.

“When I began my business, I was fortunate to have a good education, some savings, broad experience and my confidence propelling me forward. But working in isolation in regional Australia for a few years left me without the network or competency I needed to scale the business. I had the idea but all of a sudden my competency was low. I had no one to lean on. I wanted to buy a building and put my business in it, plus have all the other businesses and professionals I work with occupy space in the same building. I couldn’t work out how to do that,” she says.

That was 2012 and, in the end, Jillian took her savings and invested in an off-the-plan unit following a session with her accountant where they went through a number of options. He was, as Jillian puts it, her “first thought partner”.

Six years later, with more confidence and competency, she’s returned to her original idea and bought the building.

Advice from professionals you’ve taken the time to get to know and work with is invaluable, according to Jillian, who is still young enough to be dumbfounded by the fact that schools don’t teach financial literacy and investment concepts.

“Why don’t they take you through what to do with your savings to build your own assets, especially as women?” she worries.

“In my final years of school, I would love to have known more about real estate, investment, saving,” she finishes, thoughtfully.

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